Author of AGAINST A DARKENING SKY, THE EMPTY ROOM, OUR DAILY BREAD, and others. Find out more at www.LaurenBDavis.com. I read as if my sanity depended upon it.. . . oh, wait, it does! Snort.
I've met more than a few sociopaths in my time and some of them have written books, but this is the first book I've read by someone who defines herself as a sociopath and sets out to demystify the condition.
That, alone, makes it an interesting premise for a book and this book is certainly intriguing, although not entirely successful. Since one of the markers for sociopathy/psychopathy is a lack of insight into the self or interest in self-analysis, the very fact that Thomas went to all the trouble, over the course of years, to engage in all this self-examination makes the work somewhat suspect. It should also be noted that none of the medical professionals she consulted can, because of confidentiality laws, confirm or refute any of her assertions. Quite convenient, that.
M.E. Thomas writes under a pseudonym, but has been revealed elsewhere to be a modestly successful lawyer. This is useful information in that knowing who the actual person is and knowing some facts about her life gives the reader a comparison for the grandiose claims she makes about herself in her book. Is she really so highly intelligent, so astonishingly alluring, does she really not worry about her lack of income due to her ability to play the stock market and average a 9.5% return? Well, it's best to remember that one of the hallmarks of a sociopath/psychopath is that they lie like a rug and have a highly exaggerated sense of self-worth.
M.E. Thomas may be a "successful" sociopath, as she asserts, by which she means she lives well, has relationships, and contributes, in a fashion, to society. On the other hand, she may just be a nasty bit of work, a narcissist, a liar, a user, a con artist, and a petty criminal. Either way, someone who dedicates a chapter of her book to "ruining people" is unlikely to do herself much good with this book. It has sold rather well though, so perhaps because she doesn't give a fig for other people, money is consolation enough.
One gets the sense Thomas would like to be both admired and feared, so perhaps my reaction, which is to pity her, will elicit her wrath. She does have wrath in spades, apparently. For example, when a city worker chided her for using an off-limits escalator, Thomas followed him, a “metallic” taste in her mouth, fantasizing about killing him and “how right that would feel.” Violence was avoided, apparently, when she lost sight of him in the crowd. “I’m sure I wouldn't have been able to actually kill him,” she says, “but I’m also relatively certain I would have assaulted him.” However, she writes with what appears to be affection for a non-judgmental, Christian co-worker whose "willingness to regard me as a human begin despite her firm belief I was a sociopath offered me the possibility that I could be understood and accepted as I was. She was proof that not all people with consciences and empathy were appalled by the existence of people like me." For someone who insists she doesn't care about others and has no use for either a conscience or empathy, this is contradictory.
The book is adequately written. The prose is clean and the research is fine but, ike many such works, the writer seems to have revealed more about herself, and different things, than she intended. She says, for example, that she never engaged in any criminal behavior but also says she has a"“significant history of impulsive, aggressive, and generally irresponsible conduct — things like fistfights and theft.” She talks about theft quite casually. Underlying the entire work is a sort of plea to be pitied, to be accepted as her kind co-worker accepted her. One suspects such acceptance would be used only to Thomas's advantage however (as outlined in her "Emotions and the Fine Art of Ruining People" chapter). It's the sad push-me-pull-me stance of a deeply damaged person.
Where her lack of insight is in boldest relief is during her examination of her childhood, which was -- contrary to her assertions -- not normal at all. Beatings, neglect and a lack of security ought never to be considered 'normal' and the fact Thomas does consider it that way is evidence of a serious problem, although Thomas doesn't seem to understand that.
In the end, I didn't want to spend any more time than was necessary with this book and the relentless self-justification, grandiosity, arrogance and smug conceit. It was simply too sad. Consider this statement: “In a world filled with gloomy, mediocre nothings populating a go-nowhere rat race, people are attracted to the sociopath’s exceptionalism like moths to a flame.”
Not really. But I wish her well.